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Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2009 May; 91(4): W20–W21.
PMCID: PMC2749399

Tasers – Less than Lethal!

Abstract

We report a case of potentially lethal injury associated with the use of Taser. A 42-year-old man was stopped by police for potential detention. He held a large carving knife over his epigasrium threatening to stab himself.With a view to achieving immobilisation, a Taser gun was used. On activation of the Taser, the subject suffered a 7-cm wide and 10-cm deep stab injury to the upper abdomen. In this case, activation of the Taser resulted in the contraction of skeletal muscles, flexors more intensely than extensors, resulting in the stab injury.

Keywords: Taser, Muscle contraction, Stab wound

A Taser is an electroshock weapon used by the police and military to inflict pain and immobilise or restrain a person fromthe disadvantages of firearm-caused injuries and deaths. ATaser fires an air cartridge which, on activation, discharges two probes connected to the main unit by conductive wires. These attach to the subject; an electrical charge equivalent to 50,000 V is then delivered from the unit to the probes to achieve pain due to stimulation of sensory nerves and incapacitation due to contraction of skeletalmuscles.1,2

Use of Tasers is controversial and several safety concerns have been raised by non-governmental organisations like the Amnesty International which claims that the number of deaths directly resulting form Taser use exceed 150 and, in addition, there are several hundred cases of serious injury.2On the other hand, the company which manufactures these devices claims on its website: ‘Since its introduction in 1999, advanced Taser technology has never caused fatality of a subject’.3

Case report

We report an interesting case of potentially lethal injury associated with the use of Taser. A 42-year-old man suspected of parole violation was stopped by police for potential detention. He held a large carving knife over his epigasrium (Fig. 1) threatening to stab himself.With a view to achieving immobilisation, the Taser gun was used. On activation of the Taser, the subject suffered a 7-cm wide and 10-cm deep stab injury to the upper abdomen. At laparotomy, this was found to divide the falciform ligament, transect the anterior and posterior wall of the stomach and perforate the transversemesocolon. Therewas an associated small bowel mesentry haematoma (Fig. 2). The stomach was successfully repaired and the subject was discharged on the fifth postoperative day.

Figure 1
Diagrammatic representation of the position of the victim at the time of injury.
Figure 2
A forceps going through the tear in the anterior (A) and posterior (B) wall of stomach.

Discussion

Use of Taser delivers a 50,000 V charge to the victim and causes sudden contraction of skeletal muscle leading to incapacitation.1,2 It is known that with the arm in a partially flexed position and in front of the body, flexor group ofmuscles are stronger than the extensor group.4 In this case, use of the Taser resulted in the contraction of skeletal muscles, flexors more intensely than extensors, resulting in the stab injury.

This type of Taser-related injury has not been reported before and would be a potential area of knowledge for Taser users and also for the medical staff who may be responsible for treating patients in a similar situation.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Andrew McNaughton (Medical Illustration Department, Diana Princess of Wales Hospital, Grimsby, UK) for Figure 1.

References

1. Official website of the company manufacturing Tasers. < http://www.taser.co.uk/index.php?zone=public&page=faq> [Accessed 11 January 2008]
2. USA: Amnesty International's continuing concerns about Taser use. Index Number: AMR 51/030/2006.
3. Official website of the company manufacturing Tasers. < http://www.taser.co.uk/index.php?zone=public&page=myths> [Accessed 1 January 2008]
4. Pastanga N, Field D, Soames R. Anatomy and Hand Movement, Structure and Function. 2nd edn. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann; 1994. pp. 7–110.

Articles from Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England are provided here courtesy of The Royal College of Surgeons of England